Road tripping our way to as many “cool small towns” as we possibly can fit into one winter, our latest adventure took us to Stevens Point, Wisconsin. On the verge of being “Up North,” Stevens Point is just about right smack in the middle of the state of Wisconsin. Just shy of thirty thousand residents, about 1/3 attend the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Locating its corporate headquarters in Stevens Point, Sentry Insurance touts the region’s livability on their corporate website.
Located on Main Street in historic downtown, the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum is a good option for families with kids that need to shake their sillies out. Contained on the second floor of a re-furbished building, the museum is divided into different exhibits (some larger and more interactive than others). Better suited to families with crawlers and toddlers, our elementary age kids had a great time pulling levers, jumping on the happy teeth dental mat, and rowing a pretend boat. Less impressive compared to Children’s museums in Milwaukee and Madison, the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum does provide locals and visitors a venue for rainy days and year-round playgroup outings. Hungry families may enjoy a snack or drink at The Coffee Studio cafe located adjacent to the museum entrance (Try the Nutella mocha. Yum.).
On the opposite side of Main Street and kiddy-corner to the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum is Clay Corner Studio, a creative venue for making works of clay and glass art. Featuring paint-your-own pottery, glass fusing, and a pottery wheel, Clay Corner Studio is a fun venue for large groups or parents with kids (this was us). The studio employees handle the prep and clean-up and offer suggestions on techniques and how to achieve the best results in the final creation. We did our best to paint on an owl and a kitten; each piece was less than $15. For the artist in our family, this was a nice change of pace from museums and attractions and to top it off, we paid an extra $5.50 to have the glazed and finished “souvenirs” shipped to our house in a week or so.
Wouldn’t you know it, located next to Clay Corner Studio and still kiddy-corner to the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum is a toy store by the name Gepetto’s Workshop. Curiosity killing the cat, we popped in for a gander and were under-prepared for the volume of toys for kids of all ages and sizes (with an emphasis on educational toys and pretend play). Toy stations are scattered throughout the store, allowing parents to browse while kids keep themselves entertained. As a pleasant surprise, Gepetto’s was offering a 25% off storewide sale, so we stocked up on a few spring birthday purchases.
Around the corner from Gepetto’s Workshop is Sugar Doll Chocolates & Cards. Offering novelty candy and an assortment of candy-counter goodies, this cozy store is fun for a special treat. With humorous magnets and sarcastically-themed gifts, I picked up a coin bank for my sister that reads “I’m saving up for a unicorn.” If you play FourSquare, make sure and check in during your visit. Why not unlock the special for a free truffle while you’re in the neighborhood.
Located in the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus, the Museum of Natural History is a fantastic way to expose kids to college life and add a bit of education to your vacation itinerary. Small enough to see in 30-45 minutes, the exhibits are mostly seen through display cases (pushing the button that activates motion and sound of a t-rex skeleton is definitely the highlight of the trip), the museum does feature a coloring station and gift shop with the best-priced souvenirs. Admission is free and the museum is connected to a snack bar apparently open during the work week.
Perhaps the most favorite find of our Stevens Point weekend adventure was the Schmeeckle Reserve on the north side of town. A 280 acre natural reserve operated by the College of Natural Resources, the reserve features a visitor center and gift shop and shares a space with the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame. Passing through the reserve is approximately 1.4 miles of The Green Circle Trail, a 26 mile hiking and biking trail weaving and winding through the area (we saw signs for the trail everywhere we drove). After some backtracking, we found our way to an outdoor tree house located along the reflection pond trail (Note: the blue and green loops merge for a bit. Trail maps are available in the visitor center and at the start of the trail near the main parking lot).
Established in 1899, Herrschner’s Crafts has earned the title of the area’s “one-stop shop for all your crafting needs.” Based out of Stevens Point, the Herrshner’s “factory outlet” store is a no brainer for those of us who like to embroider, paint, bake, or own a glue gun. Having been to Herrschner’s on a previous trip to town, we knew to hit up the Bargain Corner for discounted items and also to look for garage-sale deals extending into the warehouse. Stocking up on crafts for the kids, one employee helped us locate an item otherwise available online and pull it out of warehouse inventory (three cheers for avoiding shipping fees). Before a trip to the region, consider joining the Smart Savings Club to enjoy 10% off your purchases for a full year.
A hub of wintertime activities is located at Iverson Park, the largest winter park in Stevens Point (weighing in at 375 acres). With a groomed 2.5 mile cross-country ski trail, two 300 foot toboggan runs, a recreational ice skating rink and four sledding hills (one just for little kids), the park is a testament to the number of outdoor and sports enthusiasts in the area. For our family, locating the picturesque main entrance proved to be a bit of a challenge (some entrances appear to be closed in the winter months; detailed driving instructions are available on the Iverson Park website). Also, for families wanting to take advantage of nighttime tobogganing, note the track closes at 7PM (the lights stay on until 8PM for sledders, skiers, and ice skaters). Toboggan rentals are $7.00/hour ($3.50 per half-hour) and the sledding hills seem to be restricted to sleds and saucers (no tubes allowed). Visit the warming house for snacks and soda (a regional word meaning “pop” – ha!).
Bitter cold wind-chills kept us from fully exploring Stevens Point Sculpture Park, a trail winding through the woods on the far north side of town. Displaying installations of art along the path, we saw plenty of snow shoe tracks confirming the popularity of the project intended to draw attention to nature and art in a way that includes the entire community. Access to the park is available from the main road as well as Zenoff Park (where, in theory, there is a bigger parking lot when the snow melts). We will absolutely be back to the Sculpture Park this summer – every town needs something like this.
When possible our trips bring us to regional food cooperatives like the Stevens Point Area Co-Op and Earth Crust Bakery. Tucked away in a neighborhood on the east side of town, the co-op is on the smallish size, but bustling with Saturday-morning shoppers (Earth Crust Bakery was closed, but breads and cookies were out and available for purchase.) Not only can we find the organic/healthy snacks we know our kids will eat, we can purchase fresh, local, sustainable fruits and vegetables to enjoy about town and back in our hotel room. Participating in a reciprocity program with other co-ops around the state of Wisconsin, we were able to receive a 5% discount with a membership to the Williamson Street Co-Op in Madison.
Bunking up in the Hampton Inn in Plover, we enjoyed the newly-remodeled rooms and beautiful views of Worzella Pines Park. A hop, skip, and a jump to the venues we frequented through the day, Plover is a quaint little Midwestern town with a surprising amount of stores and restaurants. Dining at Christians Bistro for dinner on Saturday evening, we enjoyed a creole-themed meal (arrive early or make reservations, a line was starting to form by 6PM). Swimming after dinner and first thing in the morning, the kids enjoyed a mid-winter jaunt in the indoor hotel swimming pool.